The Sufi Rug

A few years ago, as I travelled looking for a spiritual education, I spent a few days with an old Sufi in Ajmer. I had heard he was a poet and I wanted to learn from him.

I asked him where he got his poetry from. Spreading his hands around he said, “It is everywhere. Don’t you see?”

I saw some truth to it, but also that I didn’t see the whole of it. So, I asked him how I can see the poetry. He said, “I will make you my shaagird [student] for a day if you bow before God in my prayer room.”

I was an atheist, used to rejecting all allusions to the divine. But I didn’t want to start a debate, so I said, “I will.”

He smiled and added, “There is one condition. You must not do it on khaali zameen. You must do it only on a bichhaa kaaleen [spread out rug].”

I didn’t see why this condition would change anything, so I shrugged and agreed. 

He led me to his prayer room. It was completely empty, its walls thick and dark, except for a small skylight lattice. I noticed there was no kaaleen [rug] either – I’d have to buy one. Was the old man swindling a rug out of me? I shrugged again, and decided to go with it.

As I turned, however, the Sufi swiftly closed the door. I heard key turning in lock. And then a metal-on-metal clink – the Sufi was checking if the lock was secure. 

Shock. Terror. Why had he locked me in? Was he going to ask my parents for ransom? All the cautionary tales that friends, teachers, parents had told me flashed before me. “There are many who will take advantage of you.” 

I don’t know why I didn’t shout. I noticed I was not shouting and yet didn’t shout at all. Some part of me was telling me shouting won’t help. Something my father had said once came to me, “The people playing loud devotional music are at best only as close to God as the one saying a silent prayer.”

Is that why the Sufi had locked me? To give me cause to pray? Like, really pray? I shrugged again and I prayed – I have been taught several at school, at home, at YouTube. I prayed for what seemed like at least a few morning assemblies.

Then I remembered there was no kaaleen. This wasn’t it. Without the kaaleen, the praying won’t work. And with that thought, I just sat down. 

The room was quite dark even during midday. It had only been a few minutes past noon when we had entered the room. I didn’t wear a watch or have my phone with me, so I didn’t know what time it exactly was. I only had the sun’s angle to help me. My trigonometry was silently active. I could approximate within the hour. 

As the sun sank, the patch of light coming through the skylight grew wider on the floor. I studied the pattern – it was beautiful, reminding me of the Siddi Sayyed mosque in Ahmedabad, the one whose pristine latticework lends to the logo of IIM Ahmedabad. And for a moment, I regretted ever starting on this journey of self-discovery. I could have taken the plush, though soul-crushing, job I had been offered. They had even promised to fast-track my promotion. But here I was, looking for a spiritual awakening within me, and trapped in a dingy room with little light and no kaaleen.

And that’s when I saw it. Right there on the floor. 

It had been in front of my eyes and I had not found it –  something that always happens with the most obvious of things. 

I knelt down, bowed down, touched my forehead to the ground, like a friend had once taught me. When I raised my head, I looked at the skylight again and smiled. Two dark eyes and some betel-juice-stained teeth were smiling back at me. 

That night I wrote:

Andar khudaa ko paaya khud ko bhulaakar
Main sajdaa kiya dhoop ki kaaleen bichha kar

[Forgetting me, I found my divine.
I bowed on a rug of spread sunshine.] 

Wrote my One Millionth Word today!

At 9.14 AM today, I wrote my one-millionth word. 

If you are wondering what one million words look like, consider this: the seven books in the Harry Potter series amount to 1,084,170 words. Now the second book in the series, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, is about 85,000 words. So, if we take the Harry Potter Box Set and pull out the second book, whatever is left is a very good picture of how many words I have written.

And this journey of a million words started with counting the fourteen in the line below.

“No matter how I start my career, I will retire only as a writer.” Continue reading

The Silence of Our Actions


Silence of Our Friends Spread.png

I bought a copy of  The Silence of Our Friends yesterday at Comic Con, Bangalore. It took me two pages of browsing through at the counter to know that this is a graphic novel I will enjoy reading and will cherish for a long time. And that is exactly how things seem to be turning out. I read the book today, all in one sitting, and kept going back to several of the conversations between the important characters and the oh-so-subtle imageries in the backdrop of the artwork. And it was in these revisits that I had the Aha! moment about this book. Continue reading

Pride and Potpourri

“We should do this more often,” I told my friend.

I was with her at Urban Solace, Bangalore, in a room where a bunch of people had been cheering, clapping and high-fiving one another every two minutes. We had been playing Potpourri for almost an hour and a half and I had ended up laughing more than I had laughed in the whole week. I hadn’t realised I missed word games so much. Dumb charades, Pictionary, 20 Questions – I loved it. I had made new friends there too. And met an old one I hadn’t talked to in over six months. To top it all, I had gotten myself a free copy of Bhaavna Arora’s new book, a glass of green tea on the house and so many thoughts to munch over.

“Yes, we should,” she replied. “They have events like these every weekend before the parade.”

“Chalo chalo.” Continue reading

Hacking the Bridge…

“You remind me of the other men.”

Komal had not talked for a very long time. And for a very long time I had been trying to make her talk. It was painful to see an almost-eight-year-old girl always balled up in a corner, away from the other kids, beating herself up for faults that were not hers.

I had smiled, had joked, had played the clown, had even taken her to a very good ice cream place. But she had refused to talk. Until the day I almost gave up, cried, told her a bit about the sadness I carry in my heart, showed her a bit of the burden I carry on my shoulders and implored her to help me out. Continue reading

One Person at a Time

Last year, Anandi had called me one afternoon with good news. “Bhaiji, I passed first class in Open University exam.” She had finally gotten herself a 12th standard degree. And she was betting on it to be her exit ticket from a life of suffering, the horrors of which very few of us can imagine.

“So, what now?” I asked.

“You know I wanted to be a doctor. But that’s too much to study. No no. I can never do that. So, I was thinking I will become a nurse. Tai also agrees.” Continue reading

The Old Ways in a City of Whims

“Go, go. Get the cardboards. Can’t you see how the mosquitoes are all over the saab? Go go.”

We were on a street near a historical monument in a city that’s known all over the world for the most beautiful mausoleum any man has ever built for his beloved wife. The monument we were outside, however, wasn’t that mausoleum. It was a fort, some of whose inside walls had been red once and then yellow and finally white. Clearly, the father ruler hadn’t liked what the grandfather had built and in turn, the son ruler hadn’t liked what the father had changed. Yes, I was in a city of whims, where more stock was given to fancies of the emperors than was to the realities of its citizens. Continue reading

Goodwill Counting

“If an apple costs five rupees and a lemon costs three rupees, how much will you have to pay for both?”

I was sitting outside Raipur railway station, near a fruitseller’s pushcart, trying to teach a bunch of street kids a bit about money and how to count it.

“Don’t bother with them, Saab,” said the fruitseller, a greying man who somehow reminded me of hailstone lemonades that my grandmother always talked of but never made. “They are only here because you offered them each a small platter. What do they care about all this?” Continue reading

The Things They Carried to Durga Pujo

In the calm sea of brightly clothed humanity, inching towards the Gariahat Pujo Pandal, there were several things bobbing up and down that caught one’s attention.

The narrow streets carried over a thousand men and women and people of the sex no one wanted to acknowledge. The air carried a hotness and humidity that could only have been the vapours of hopes and ambitions rising from the bodies of these thousands on the streets and the thousands who were here before them. The tall bamboo frames on the side of the road carried branded promises of prosperity and future security, with tiny bindi shaped stars that talked about terms and conditions immediately below the message that celebrated unconditional love. Continue reading

Though Much is Lost, Much Abides

The Mumbai-Nagpur Duronto Express on 23rd June did not come even to the starting station until it was well over an hour late. Expectant passengers passed their time looking from the announcement screen to the digital clock hanging all along platform number 18. Bored of the wait, a group of three friends, well past their age of retirement, sat down and decided to play a game of Hearts. Only god knows why they were bent on playing a game of four when they were only three. Perhaps, it was some wisdom that a 24 year old cynic did not possess. It was definitely beyond his understanding. Continue reading